Country Living Series

Monday, September 3, 2018

So when did "ma'am" become an insult?

Here's my WND column for this weekend entitled "When did 'ma'am' become an insult?"

For those unable to access the website, the text is below.

So When Did ‘Ma’am’ Become an Insult?

Our younger daughter, then 19, used to work as a manager in an antique store. As such, she was expected to be polite and respectful with customers. One evening she came home and vented about a customer who turned “volte-face” and nearly bit her head off when our daughter addressed her as “ma’am.” “Don’t call me that!” the woman snarled. “I’m not a ma’am!”

Since our daughter is bred to politeness – and since she represented the store – she couldn’t ask the obvious: “If you’re not a ‘ma’am,” then what ARE you? A jerk?”

I couldn’t believe anyone could be that rude until a similar experience happened to me a few weeks later, when a store clerk took exception to my addressing her as ma’am.

And of course, who can forget Barbara Boxer’s unbelievably rude exchange in 2009 during a committee hearing, when Brigadier General Michael Walsh of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had the effrontery to address her as “ma’am.” Boxer interrupted and asked him to call her “senator.” Boxer was clearly ignorant of military protocol, in which “ma’am” is universally used to address female superiors. In other words, as a female in the military, you have to earn the right to be called “ma’am.”

More recently, a teacher in North Carolina punished a 10-year-old boy named Tamarion Wilson for calling her “ma’am” after she asked him not to – even though the child had recently been hospitalized with seizures and still suffered from memory issues.

This one blew me away. Wilson’s parents took the time to teach their son respect and manners toward authority figures, and then the boy’s politeness was punished. Additionally, “the teacher said that if she had something to throw, she would have thrown it at the boy,” according to Wilson. (The teacher later said that was a joke.)

What’s up with this? A hugely polite term such as “ma’am” is now considered insulting?

Apparently so.

The question of “why” takes a bit of examination. For some women, the term is an acknowledgement that they’re “past their prime.” For others, the term is considered a put-down, an admission of gender, a recognition that they are, in fact, women (horrors!) and not, I dunno, vacuum cleaners or something.

Cosmopolitan, in its usual clueless and vulgar way, states why the term is offensive: “‘Ma'am’ is yet another horrible-sounding word that women are stuck with to describe various aspects of their body/life/hair: Vagina. Moist. Fallopian tubes. Yeast infection. Clitoris. Frizz,” snarks writer Jessi Klein, concluding: “‘Ma'am’ makes people crazy. Almost universally, women hate it (with the exception of a few people in the South who have decided that being called ma'am is a sign of respect or something).”

Um, sweetie, I’ve got news for you: It IS a term of respect, and not just in the South; and by no stretch of the imagination do women hate it “universally.” The military would never condone adopting vulgar terms for body parts when addressing women; they use “ma’am” because it’s polite. Deal with it, cupcake.

Those who take offense at the term “ma’am” are merely revealing their own insecurities, whether it has to do with age or gender or competence or whatever. Klein demonstrates this. “‘Ma’am’ isn't just a form of address,” she writes. “It's a way for a perfect stranger to let us know how old he thinks we are. What is the purpose of this? Why does a West Elm clerk have to let me know he thinks he knows how old I am? The issue isn't my comfort with my age (I'm 40) so much as why, why, why the [very bad expletive] does this need to be a factor in every interaction I have?”

Let’s get one thing straight: Whatever your personal feelings about the matter, whatever your issues or insecurities, whatever your lament about no longer being 19 years old and sexually desirable to strangers on the street … the term is still one of respect. To bite the head off anyone who uses it – whether a brigadier general or a 10-year-old boy – is petty. In other words, don’t take your personal hang-ups and rampant insecurities out on military personnel, children, or strangers who are attempting to be polite. It’s rude.

Folks, if you’ve ever wondered why our country is not the great nation it once was, it’s because of this. It’s the little things. It’s teachers who punish their students for addressing them respectfully. It’s clerks or customers who snarl when addressed politely. It’s military officers who must deal with sensitive senators. It’s women who yell at men for opening a door for them.

Men used to open doors for women, stand when they entered a room, held their chairs, and performed other marks of courtesy. Feminism has largely trashed these courtesies and examples of politeness.

Since women set the benchmarks for behavior in Western culture, it’s no wonder things are going downhill. Telling men not to hold doors for you or to stop addressing you with a polite term of respect simply indicates you no longer want respect from them. Be careful what you wish for.

Politeness is a social lubricant, folks. It’s what holds our society together. It’s what allows millions of different people to get along, despite their differences. Personally I feel honored when someone addresses me as “ma’am.” – but then I’m starting to get grey hair, so maybe I feel I’ve earned it.

“I don't actually advocate for a loss of all courtesy,” said New York Times columnist Natalie Angier in an interview with NPR. “[T]he question is where you put your courtesy.”

That’s nice, Ms. Angier – but how does a stranger know the degree of courtesy you find objectionable? How are they supposed to gauge this?

So for those who take offense at the term “ma’am,” I’ve come up with an alternate term, something anyone can universally use for those rude women who object to “ma’am,” a term I would LOVE to have seen Brigadier General Michael Walsh use on Barbara Boxer:


Try it. I’m sure they’ll love it.


  1. Miss Patrice, you could have not said it clearer iffn' you had a mouthful of oatmeal... I have had this fostered on me, my next reply is to call them whore and explain if they do not want respect then they get no respect.

  2. Women who say they "aren't ma'ams" are correct; because that would infer that they're ladies, which they obviously ARE NOT!

  3. I would have loved to see " toots" Boxer 's reaction !

  4. My Dad used to say; "Men act as good or bad as their women allow".


  5. I'd take being called ma'am any day. A new pharmacy tech kept calling me "honey" or "hon". I replied with "beeyotch". Strange thing, she didn't like that. Explained that I felt the same way with what she kept calling me. It's a shame when you have to school people who work with the public how to speak professionally.

    Oh well, lesson learned. I never saw her working there again. Unfortunately, manners don't seem to be taught any longer.

  6. We would call our dispatchers "ma'am" and when we got a new Chief from the Dallas area he told us to stop calling them "ma'am". He stated that it was "submissive". Needless to say, we did not agree with this and called her "ma'am" more often. That Chief didn't last long and went back up North.

  7. You are absolutely correct! I was taught, and still use the term Ma'am, and sir, when addressing either gender, unless known personally, whether younger and especially older than I. Still open or hold open door for either gender. Will continue as long as I'm among the dirt walkers and not residing in the heavenly realms. Believe the proper term for Senator boxer from the General would have been Senator boxer, a**hole.....
    # 1 rule for getting along in the world - Don't be a jerk!!!

  8. I love to watch Senator Trey Gowdy being interviewed by a woman on TV. Everytime he says "Yes Ma'am or No Ma'am" I think that his Momma must be so proud of him.

  9. Being a person of small stature I've often been mistaken for much younger age than I actually am. Somehow the title "Little Girl" seemed appropriate for me by many men I encountered in my life. I didn't like being "Little Girled" when I was 16 and I most certainly didn't like it at 25. When I got it from one obnoxious man at 35 I told him "That's Ma'am" to you.

    Another called me Honey when I was near 50 so I called him Sonny for the rest of the encounter. When we were done with our business he told me he objected to being called Sonny. I smiled brightly and said since he was so flippantly familiar with me to call me what bar waitresses call their drunken patrons (honey), then I could call him something flippant.

    Now I'm squeezing up near 70 and I've EARNED Ma'am. I'll even take the southern respectful and semi-formal Miz Carolyn from those I've been introduced to, but not strangers.

    So what do women who are complete strangers want to be addressed as, Sir? Hey You? Kiddo? Obnoxious hope I never see you again person?

  10. I was taught that using "Ma'am" and "Sir" shows respect for the person as well as the position. So, I'll use the appropriate term even when the person I'm addressing is younger then me.
    SJ in Vancouver BC Canada

  11. If she got that put out from being called Ma'am, I wonder how she would have reacted to "HEY LADY" in the manner of a Jerry Lewis character.


  12. It's become difficult to keep up with what offends folks these days. It's easier just to avoid people and and conversation whenever possible.

  13. I will take Ma'am over babe, honey, or sweetie any day. Only my husband and dad should call me the other 3. Yet every day at work I am called babe, honey or sweetie by total strangers. And I keep my mouth shut because I was taught to be polite.

  14. I would like to hear how more of you would handle the situation. I don’t think it is okay to let someone call me by names that are reserved for my husband. I would like to figure out a way to be polite but firmly tel, them it’s noy acceptable.

    1. I'd say something in reply like,"Oh yeah sure, I'll get that form for you and hey, would you mind just calling me Nancy instead of "honey"? I like that so much better. (Big smile)" Remember, if there are women out there gutsy enough to chew someone out for calling them "ma'am" you can be assertive enough to ask to be called by your given name.

  15. I have come to like being called Ma'am, as I've gotten older. When I was younger, I did sometimes take offense to it, but tempered that with reminding myself that it was a sign of respect, and that the person referring to me in that manner was raised with manners. I work with the public, and am always respectful; I DO use hon, sweetheart, but only with my 'regular' customers, who I have developed a relationship with over the years. And as a woman calling another woman those names, to me it denotes the level of relationship we have developed over the years. This applies to my elders, same age, younger. When dealing with someone I do not know, I err on the side of caution, using Ma'am or Miss, depending on their age. And some women are addressed as Miz Soandso. Just the way I Was raised, I guess. I guess that sounds kind of judgemental, but oh well. SO, let's posit this one, why do we address all men as Mister or Sir? And there so far hasn't been any blowback on that?

  16. Sweetie, baby, sugar, miss--all offensive!

    One clueless woman said "well, I don't know your name, so what would I call you? When I said ma'am, she said, "You don't mind me calling you that?"

    I am 72!

    When I am in a store and want to get the clerk
    s attention, I say Ma'am or Sir.

    What I am called has nothing to do with the name being reserved for husband or father. It is that the name is not appropriate to call me.

    Sometimes, when a woman calls me baby, sugar, or sweetie, I turn to the woman and tell her we do not know each other that well.

    This is one of my top peeves. Okay, No ! Peeve.

  17. The world is a poorer place because of all of the political correctness and SJW language. We no longer display any civility or manners in our daily conversations or interactions. We have traded paradise for a dirt infested encampment.
    -Stealth Spaniel

  18. Thank you for adressing this! Personally I like "ma'am" and feel the respect behind the word. I grew up in the upper Midwest where the term is rarely used. Now I'm in the south and and it's a part if the culture and I love it. Who doesn't appreciate feeling respected by their fellow human beings?! Like I tell our kids when they're tattling to me about each other, "Quit being so easily offended!".

  19. Such is the fruit of the failed Feminist Movement. Two words come to mind and they both rhyme. One is 'Witches'.
    Dock Guy

  20. I was raised to address friend or foe with yes/no ma'am/Sir. If not, I got cracked. Ten yrs in the service and 24yrs with the State of Mi. I still show the respect I was taught and have passed it on to my children and grand children.

  21. I have been a "Ma'am" from the young age of 20, first as a ROTC cadet and next as a USAF officer. As a young lieutenant, I was expected to be seen and not heard until I started figuring things out, especially with senior enlisted staff, who technically didn't outrank me, but in actuality did. I knew I was on their good side if they called me Ma'am or "L.T." and had screwed up if I was called "Lieutenant." Being a Ma'am is a badge of honor.

  22. I was raised saying no/yes, ma'am/sir. To everyone of any age. Good manners. When my child was born we taught him to say either Mrs/Mr if they don't know them. Miss/Mr Propername if they do. Some people not directed related but "family" get Aunt/Uncle. Hon from a much younger person (usually female) has driven me nuts since I was in my 20's. Older individuals I accepted it from because of respect for their age.

    Kathy in MS

  23. I'm sure the parents have already snatched her baldheaded, and her Yankee butt will be unemployed next school year.

  24. About 25 years ago I worked with a happy go lucky cheerful guy who was always friendly. The place was a male dominated production factory. He had been upstairs in the office and looked brow beaten. He said "I went into the office and said "Good morning, girls!" A new one, who is a racial minority, screamed "We are not girls we are women!"And proceeded to publicly shred him. He shook his head and muttered what "what am I supposed to say? Good morning A..h....!? It is not age, gender or race specific -everybody has one..." as he wandered away, head down.

    I hold the door for most people and try to be polite. I am afraid if someone jumps on me like that they will get his last words. Perhaps they won't like it but it may be more fitting than "ladies, miss, ms, Mrs, ma'am or Sir". Perhaps when it registers they will be a little more patient with the next polite person. Natokadn

  25. Me and my kiddos will continue to use Ma'am. I loved it when a southern student of mine used this term and taught my kids to do the same. But I don't take offense easily, so I don't worry about what others call me. My self worth is not found in their perception of me. My dad used to say, "I don't care what you call me as long as you don't call me late for dinner!"

  26. Hi Folks,

    Seeing the discussion here has moved beyond being addressed as ma'am I just wanted to comment on being addressed as honey, sweetie etc. I grew up in an area of the country where calling a stranger honey was about equivalent to saying toots, it was kinda creepy and insulting. I now live in a part of the country where it is perfectly normal to kindly refer to strangers (mostly female or children) as honey, sweetie etc. I've come to realize that, for the most part, this is just a cultural thing. Please, if you don't like it just kindly explain that you would prefer not to be called sweetie. These people could probably tell you stories of their Grandma calling everyone sweetie.

  27. I am a teacher in a public school, and I love being called ma'am. Any child who does that has been raised well.